Sexual negotiations can become highly emotional, especially when the two members of the couple have very different desires. If not resolved productively, it can lead to resentment, frustration, withdrawal, and hopelessness. It can end a relationship or leave a lasting tension if the couple stays together.

I’ve already written about how to negotiate differences in a couple’s sexual frequency and repertoire. Those two posts got a lot of comments, prompting me to write this post about how to address those sexual differences that are more intractable or cause much more strife. These are those painful situations where at least one member of the couple, but probably both, are really unhappy about the stalemate, but neither knows how to resolve it. There are no easy answers here because, if there had been, then they would have already found them.

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Source: Copyright 123rf.com

Irreconcilable differences early in a relationship will probably lead at least one member of the couple to end it and move on, hopefully allowing both people to find greater happiness elsewhere. However, as a relationship deepens and the couple’s lives become increasingly intertwined, it is not as easy to end it—obviously people still do, but the emotional and financial price is much higher when there are kids and mortgages involved. While we wouldn’t wish this suffering on anyone, this high price can be a strong incentive to try to make the relationship worth sticking around for. It forces us to do that hard work so that both partners feel that staying is better than going. This means expressing and fighting for our own needs, while also being respectful of our partner’s needs.

Undue selfishness, insensitivity, or lack of consideration will probably become a deal breaker for at least one partner eventually. The balancing act in relationships involves getting our own needs met while also meeting our partner’s. We can’t expect our partner to be more generous or behave better than we ourselves do, so bad behavior may work temporarily, but tends to backfire in the end or in other parts of the relationship.

When it comes to sex, making excessive demands (as defined by the recipient) can be as damaging as excessively denying a partner’s requests (as defined by the denied). There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to sex and relationships, nor are there absolutes. What works for one couple may not work for another. What a couple does or doesn’t do may be less important than why they do or don’t do it and how they each feel about that.

The risk of ignoring our own or our partner’s sexual or relational unhappiness is that it can lead to worse outcomes for both people—one or both people drift out of the relationship; one or both people begin investing that energy elsewhere (e.g., work, hobbies) or into other people. This is another motivator to do that hard work to resolve those disagreements in a way that both people can feel good about. Or at least good enough.

Within ethical and legal constraints, we all have the right to push for what we want from our partner (and to suffer the consequences for pushing too hard). Similarly, we also have the right to deny our partner’s requests (and to suffer the consequences for shutting them down). But we need to remember that nothing in a relationship happens in a vacuum—it is influenced by what came before, as well as what else is going on in the relationship. So generosity can be rewarded (and bad behavior can be punished) in more ways than one. Therefore, we have to keep the bigger picture in mind—what price am I willing to pay for this? If it's worth it, then it’s worth it, but since life and relationships involve compromise and sacrifice, we have to consider the potential ripple effects.

When you feel at an impasse on one topic, it can be helpful to think about what else is good or bad in the relationship and how important this current topic is to you. This may help you decide how much you want to push for what you want on this topic. It’s also worth thinking about how important this is to your partner and whether your sacrifice will be worth it.

Long-term relationships involve tons of negotiations on all sorts of topics, sexual and otherwise. Every couple needs to figure out what works for them, at each stage of the relationship. While there may not be many universals, one certainty is that behaving well during those negotiations, even when taking a strong stand for or against something, makes it much more likely that your partner will also respond well and that you will probably get more of what you want. And if your partner isn’t responding well, then perhaps that needs to become the topic of discussion.

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